It is our pleasure to present the commentaries of some reflective people in Europe and in the U.S. who are knowledgeable experts when it comes to the Vatican and the Catholic Faith. Each was asked to write a brief commentary to the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and they have generously responded. We are very honored and happily present to our readers, without further analysis, these commentaries that speak for themselves. We are especially grateful for the willingness of these men to offer their considered positions, inasmuch as the prelates of the Church have been troublingly quiet.
Father Brian Harrison, O.S., S.T.D., theologian, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.:
While the Holy Father’s exhortation contains much practical wisdom and moving reflection about marital and familial love, I cannot agree with those who are assuring us that the document leaves intact the Church’s bimillennial doctrine. For doctrine – which includes divine law – can be effectively changed not only when it is directly and explicitly contradicted, but also when it is undermined by radical changes of discipline (de jure or even just de facto) that are inseparably linked to it. And this kind of revolutionary change is embedded in two key footnotes to Amoris Laetitia, nos. 336 and 351. In note 351, Pope Francis, speaking of those in illicit sexual unions, first says that “in certain cases” they may receive the help of “the sacraments” (plural) at the discretion of their pastors. Then, in the following two sentences, by severely warning priests not to be too harsh or demanding in administering Penance and Eucharist, he makes it abundantly clear that he has these two sacraments especially in mind. But giving Absolution and Communion to persons who, Jesus himself says, are committing adultery will clearly conflict with perennial Catholic doctrine and discipline (see CCC, nos. 1650, 2384, and last sentences in 2390). It is prohibited absolutely by the June 2000 Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which confirms explicitly the Church’s unbroken tradition that, as a consequence of divine law, no exceptions can ever be made, even for those civilly remarried divorcees whose personal guilt may be mitigated by psychological or other factors. The reason, says the Declaration, is that since these persons are living publicly in an objectively gravely sinful situation, the Church would be seen as diluting the Law of Christ himself, and so lead others into sin, by admitting them to Holy Communion. This scandal is what we are now facing as a result of Amoris Laetitia.
Professor Roberto de Mattei, Historian, Rome, Italy:
In my view, the post-synodal exhortation goes beyond the Second Vatican Council. This is already Vatican III. I will limit myself here to one example, the paragraph 80 of the exhortation where marriage is defined.
According to the Catholic Magisterium, the primary end of marriage is procreation, which is not purely a biological act, but which also includes the natural and supernatural education of the children. The secondary aims of marriage are the mutual help of the spouses and the remedy for concupiscence. These two aims cannot be put above the primary end, and they have to remain on the secondary level without being separated from the generative function.
The pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes places these two ends of marriage – conjugal love and procreation – on the same level. It is thus a strongly ambiguous text. The exhortation Amoris Laetitia, however, is not ambiguous, but clear. It makes clear that which was ambiguous in Gaudium et Spes. It now performs an inversion of the ends of marriage. We actually read: “Marriage is first of all an ‘intimate partnership of life and love’ which is a good for the spouses themselves, while sexuality is ‘ordered
to the conjugal love of man and woman.’”
If the primary end is love, the indissolubility of marriage is at risk of falling since, if love dies, the marriage dies, even if there are children involved. And if the children are an obstacle to conjugal love, they can be avoided altogether with the help of contraception. Thus, the conjugal love risks being reduced to to sexual love, according to paragraph 150 which stresses the erotic dimension of love and of the sexual life of the couple. Sexual sin does not exist as a moral, intrinsically illegitimate act. Morality is reduced to intentions and circumstances, that is to say, to the primacy of conscience – which expresses itself in the subjective intention of those who perform the act – and to the primacy of history – which reveals itself in the historical circumstances which justify the act. It is now the intentions and the circumstances, the conscience and the history which render any human act good or bad. The objectivity of the moral law is being replaced by the “person,” and deprived of any normative bond and further immersed in the historical and cultural context. The Catholic morality is disposed of. I ask myself how it is possible to interpret this in light of the “hermeneutic of continuity.”
Dr. Sandro Magister, Vatican expert, journalist of L’espresso, Rome, Italy:
MERCY FOR ALL, EXCEPT FOR THE OBEDIENT CHILDREN
The eighth chapter of the exhortation “Amoris Lætitia,” on the divorced and remarried and related matters, is the one that is most astonishing.
It is an inundation of mercy. But it is also a triumph of casuistry, although this is so execrated in words. With the sensation, after reading it, that every sin is excused, and so many are its attenuating factors, and therefore it vanishes, leaving room for meadowlands of grace even in the context of objectively grave “irregularities.” Access to the Eucharist goes without saying, it is not even necessary for the pope to proclaim it from the rooftops. All it takes are a couple of allusive footnotes.
And those who have obeyed the Church until now and have identified with the wisdom of its Magisterium? Those divorced and remarried who, with such good will and humility, for years or even for decades, have prayed, gone to Mass, given their children a Christian upbringing, done works of charity, in spite of being in a second and non-sacramental union, without receiving Communion? And those who have agreed to live with the new spouse “as brother and sister,” no longer in contradiction with the previous indissoluble marriage, and have thus been able to receive the Eucharist? What about all of them, after the “free for all” that many have read in “Amoris Lætitia”?
There is in the exhortation a footnote – another one, not the two extensively cited ones that hint at Communion for the divorced and remarried – that reserves for those who have made the decision to live “as brother and sister” not a word of comfort, but a slap in the face.
It is said to them in fact that in doing this they could do harm to their new family, because “if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.’” The implication is that the others do better to live a full life as spouses, even in second civil marriages, and perhaps now even receiving Communion.
Seeing is believing. It is footnote number 329, which improperly cites in support of its rebuke nothing less than the conciliar constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” at no. 51.
Marco Tosatti, Vatican expert, journalist of La Stampa, Rome, Italy:
I think that the situation, from a doctrinal point of view, remains the same. The difference is certainly in the way things are offered; and in the strengthening and making wider what was the usual practice of the judgment case-by-case. And, of course, there is the great role played by the media willing to present as a revolution what revolution was not, to show how open-minded and progressive the Pope is. In the media reports, very often the caution and the reminders of the doctrine that is present in the document are forgotten. And certainly this might be a great source of confusion.
The emphasis on the case-by-case judgment certainly is something new; and it obviously opens the way to every possible decision by the priest who examines the personal situation of the faithful. Even if it is not something completely new from a formal point of view, it creates a largely new situation. And certainly may create confusion, and a wide range of different judgments. And problems.
Mathias von Gersdorff, author and pro-life activist, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
The laity, who after more than two years of discussion, had hoped for a clear and unambiguous statement with regard to the question “communion for remarried divorced” were disappointed. The normal layman remains puzzled and perplexed over the bewildering diversity of opinions and statements coming from the clergy concerning a matter which is actually already defined. The ruling chaos is the opposite of pastoral care.